Zimbabwean state media on Wednesday announced the death of Vice President Joseph Msika confirming reports which had been circulating for the previous 24 hours.
State radio said President Robert Mugabe visited Msika late Tuesday at West End Hospital in Harare where he was on life support, and informed the politburo of his ZANU-PF party of the vice president's death on Wednesday, after which the news was made public.
Msika, 85, had suffered a stroke some months earlier and been in and out of the hospital.
Senior government officials told VOA and other news organizations Tuesday that Msika had passed away, reports which a ZANU-PF spokesman initially dismissed as misinformed.
Joseph Msika was born on December 6, 1923, in Chiweshe Reserve of Mashonaland Central Province. In the 1950s he entered the trade union movement and was detained by Rhodesian authorities a number of times at centers such as Gonakudzingwa and Khami.
Msika rose through the ranks of the national liberation movement becoming deputy to Joshua Nkomo in the Zimbabwe African People’s Union or ZAPU. He was a delegate to the Lancaster House talks that culminated in the 1980 declaration of independence.
ZAPU President Dumiso Dabengwa, a close ally of Msika who recently quit ZANU-PF to revive the liberation party, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Msika recruited many youth for the liberation struggle and was a no-nonsense character.
Analysts said Msika's death could destabilize ZANU-PF as members jostle to replace him. ZANU-PF Chairman John Nkomo, another former ZAPU leader who joined ZANU-PF with the 1987 unity accord that ended internecine warfare in Matabeleland province, is considered the most likely replacement, though other names have been mentioned as candidates.
Political analyst John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe said Msika’s death was a major blow to ZANU-PF and that this explained the delay in announcing his death.
Water Minister Sam Sipepa Nkomo, a colleague of Msika in the PF-ZAPU party of the 1980s and now a member of the Movement for Democratic Change formation headed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, told VOA reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that the late vice president’s passing was a sad loss to Zimbabwe as a nation.
Member of Parliament Shepherd Mushonga of the Tsvangirai MDC formation, who grew up in the same area of Mashonaland Central where Msika originated, paid tribute telling Blessing Zulu that Mr. Msika never used his power to harass local opposition members.
Many Zimbabweans were saddened by the news and some reproached the authorities for the apparent delay in announcing Msika's death, Thomas Chiripasi reported from Harare.
ZANU-PF Deputy Spokesman Ephraim Masawi said Msika's will be buried Monday at the National Heroes Acre ahead of the National Heroes Day on Tuesday.